Theater & dance

dance review

Companhia Urbana de Dança lights up the stage at ICA

These dancers move with a sinuous grace and tensile strength.

Alice Gebura

These dancers move with a sinuous grace and tensile strength.

For their Boston debut Friday night, presented by World Music/CRASHarts, the vibrant young dancers of Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança lit up the stage, not just with exceptional movement skills, but also with spirited personalities. Both were beautifully showcased in two works displaying the group’s characteristic fusion of contemporary dance, urban street dance, hip-hop, and Brazilian social dances.

Both works were crafted by choreographer and artistic director Sonia Destri Lie in collaboration with members of the company, many of whom hail from the impoverished favelas of Rio de Janeiro. These dancers move with a sinuous grace and tensile strength that seem bred in the bone, totally natural and brimming with raw energy. Yet they also demonstrate impressive ensemble precision, with razor sharp shifts in timing and dynamics. One moment they are seductive curves, energy rippling through rolling torsos out limbs and fingers. The next, they launch into jagged kicks, arms slicing, feeding into unpredictable multilayered floor patterns. Periodically, dancers tumble to the floor, unleashing the acrobatic spins and balances of capoeira. Yet nothing looks derivative or tacked on. Through Lie’s expert guidance, the choreography evolves organically, yet with a sharply contemporary vision.

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That said, both works were far too long, more unspooled than developed, and couldn’t have been more different in tone. The 2009 “ID:Entidades” evokes dark urban streets, with dim lights and lots of shadows. Set to a spare, mostly electronic and percussion score by Rodrigo Marçal, the work often casts individual dancers in solos and small groups, while the others sit and watch, bystanders. Urban traffic is evoked through massed movement across the stage and periodic flat-out runs. Overall, it is rather somber, but occasional glints of humor provide flashes of light, and when the eight dancers cut loose as an ensemble, it’s thrilling.

The 2012 “Na Pista” is all party from the moment the dancers enter down the aisles, singing and joshing with each other, a glitter ball providing the shimmering sparkle. After one dancer cues, “DJ, please!” a good-natured game of musical chairs sets the tone for some competitive one-upmanship. Music ranging from a simple heavy beat to mash-ups evoking David Bowie, Adele, even a little James Brown horn funk, gives dancers moments in the spotlight to showcase the moves and rhythms of their daily lives. But there is never a sense that these solos come at the expense of community. This is a tight-knit group, connecting and reconnecting, pushing and supporting one another, even hydrating on cue from their water canteens. “Na Pista” is an ebullient romp, a total crowd-pleaser, and by the time Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” fueled the freestyling curtain call, it was clear I wasn’t the only audience member yearning to run down and join the party.

Companhia Urbana de Dança

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Presented by World Music/CRASHarts.

At Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, April 15

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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